Iten, the small Kenyan town long a mecca for athletes from around the world seeking to train at high altitudes, is facing a new challenge threatening its status as a global athletic powerhouse. The town’s forests are disappearing, and with each tree cut down, the magic in Iten fades a little more.

I recently spoke with Brother Colm, an Irish missionary and a long-time resident in Iten, who has witnessed the changes firsthand. Over the years, Colm has gained celebrity status as an athletics coach. They call him “The Godfather of Kenyan running”. He told me that the town’s once lush green hills are disappearing, and the air, once crisp and clean, is choked with dust. “The rains have become erratic,” he explained, his voice laced with concern. “It’s not just affecting the athletes, but the entire community.”

Jepchumba, a local athlete with a few running accolades to her name, echoed Colm’s worries. “The training is different now,” she shared, her brow furrowed. “It’s harder to push, to find that extra gear. The sun beats down mercilessly, and the wind carries a gritty bite.”

But it’s not just about the physical challenges. Iten town’s charm, its allure as a training paradise, was woven from the tapestry of nature. The whispering pines, the vibrant birdlife, and the cool, refreshing streams were the secret ingredients of Iten’s magic. Now, with each disappearing tree, a piece of the magic in Iten fades.

I also had the chance to speak with some foreign athletes who recently made the pilgrimage to Iten. They were in awe of the town’s athletic legacy and the stunning landscape that surrounds it. But they, too, noted the changes that have taken place. “It’s not as green as it used to be,” one athlete remarked. “You can feel the impact of deforestation on the environment and our training.”

The consequences of Iten’s deforestation are far-reaching, and Jepchumba fears for the future. “If we don’t act,” she says, her voice unwavering, “future generations will not have the same advantages. We might lose our edge, our position as an athletics powerhouse.”

A call to action is needed. Iten’s allure is not just about medals and records; it’s about a legacy, a love affair with nature that has nurtured champions on the track and in the spirit. To lose Iten’s forests would be to lose not just a training ground but also a vital piece of Kenya’s athletic soul.

So, if you are planning a pilgrimage to Iten, prepare yourself for a different landscape. But let it also be a reminder of the delicate balance between human ambition and environmental responsibility. Let Iten’s fading allure be a wake-up call to protect the training grounds of champions and the lungs that breathe life into our planet.

However, Iten could rediscover a different kind of magic in this new reality. Magic is born from resilience, from understanding that true strength lies in conquering challenges and protecting the very ground we stand on. Let Iten become a symbol, not of fading glory, but of hope, a testament to our ability to heal, rebuild, and run together towards a brighter, greener future.